Recent studies on senior citizens have found that although the Baby Boomer generation lives longer than earlier generations, they are also more likely to live with multiple chronic health conditions than prior generations. Generally speaking, the life expectancy of Americans has been on a continual upward slope for more than a century. In 1900, that number was just 47 years, while today it’s about 76 years — an average slightly down from 2019’s high of 79 years due to COVID-19, drug overdoses, and accidental injuries.
Older Americans living well into their 70s and beyond, paired with the impact of ongoing and escalating health issues, can present an unfortunate reality for seniors’ adult children. At some point or another, many of our parents will need assistance with activities or circumstances beyond their ability to ensure they stay safe. And according to a 2020 report from AARP, 11 percent of caregivers live at least one hour from the care recipient. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, you’ll want to read on as we provide six tips on helping elderly parents from a distance.
1. Evaluate what’s Realistically Possible
If you’re at the point where you’re already a long-distance caregiver, you’ve likely either completed the following exercise or come to an understanding through trial and error. As much as we would like to be there for our parents in their time of need, the complexities of distance — along with time, finances, and knowledge — can create some roadblocks. Long-distance caregivers must carefully evaluate what their parents need and how (and where and when) they can provide support. Doing everything yourself isn’t realistic, so be honest about the areas where you can make a difference and those that may require outside assistance.
2. Conduct a Home Audit for Hazards and Threats
As a younger, non-disabled person, what may seem innocent or ordinary to you could be a danger to an aging senior with poor coordination and balance. That’s why conducting a home audit for threats is a critical step for long-distance caregivers to take. During this process, look for any furniture that blocks walkways, loose floorboards or rugs, or any other tripping hazard that could cause your parents to fall. Consider installing handrails in the shower and by the toilet. It’s also a good idea to hire a whole-home inspector who can examine appliances like the HVAC system, washer and dryer, refrigerator, and stove in search of units that could be faulty or be a fire threat in the future.
3. Confirm You Have the Needed Access and Authority to Help
There are times when factors like a lack of money can create barriers to helping an elderly parent, and there may also be logistical, legal, and access bottlenecks that complicate matters further. Establishing you have access and legal authority where appropriate is an excellent next step to ensure you can help in the ways your parents need it. For example, gaining online access to financial records, retirement plans, bill-pay platforms, credit cards, insurance, and securities portfolios is a must. You may even opt to use that access to pay your parent’s bills on their behalf so that you never have to worry about a memory lapse resulting in a penalty.
You should also guide your parents in securing an estate planning professional or service to create vital documents like a living will, last will and testament, beneficiary designations, durable power of attorney, and a healthcare proxy. If those documents already exist, verify they are current and that you have access if needed. Lastly, work with your parent’s providers on adding you to their records so that you can ask questions and receive files remotely.
4. Create an Emergency Plan
Driving across town to reach your parents in need is relatively simple, but that’s a luxury that long-distance caregivers don’t have. As a result, it’s essential you work with your parents to create an emergency plan if and when something does go awry. Building a relationship with a friendly neighbor you can trust to help until you arrive can go a long way. You’ll also want to create an easily accessible list of phone numbers for your parents that includes their healthcare providers, banks, utility companies, insurance companies, a trusted neighbor, and anyone else they may need to reach in a hurry.
5. Coordinate Services From Afar
One of the hardest things for an aging senior is staying on top of the details and activities of daily living. Fortunately, you can take care of many of those details remotely. For example, look for meal delivery services that can deliver pre-cooked or ready-to-cook food directly to your parent’s door to simplify meal planning and preparation. For snacks, toiletries, and medications most grocery stores and pharmacies offer delivery through an online portal, which means you can place the order from your home for them. Ensure your parents stay connected to their community by arranging for local transportation services that can drive your parents to doctor appointments, the beauty salon or barber shop, and to visit any friends who live nearby.
6. Be There Without Being There
As much as we think our aging parents need constant supervision and hands-on help, a simple morale boost can sometimes be enough. Though the most effective way to make this happen is with an in-person visit, technology has made it easier than ever to “visit” from afar. Even some of the most inexpensive smartphones and tablets support video chatting, which allows you (or other family members, like grandchildren) to speak face-to-face with your parents no matter where you are.
But beyond just enabling communication, emerging technology can provide a wealth of information on your parent’s daily habits and activities. For instance, wearable technology like a fitness tracker can tell you how many steps your parent has taken that day and vital signs like resting heart rate. Additionally, there are ways to lock the door remotely to prevent wandering, while smart drug dispensers can confirm medication compliance.
When You Can No Longer Do it Yourself, At Home Harmony is Here
Being a long-distance caregiver is a mentally, emotionally, and physically grueling role to take on. Many who attempt to help an elderly parent from afar find it’s only feasible for so long before a more permanent, professional alternative is needed — and that’s precisely what At Home Harmony can offer. We provide fully integrated, one-on-one care in the senior’s private home that empowers them to retain their independence as they thrive on their own terms and in their own comfortable environment.
We make this happen through a network of physicians, advanced practitioners, nurses, care aides, and specialized pharmacy professionals who connect care for seniors and the disabled cohesively. Interested in learning more about what we do? Contact us today to talk to a member of our Harmony team.